Friday, January 1, 2016

The First Hours of a New Year

I begin writing this 2 hours before daylight--the first sunrise of a new year.  I've heard from a variety of friends about what they hope for in 2016.  I've made my own lists (see this post on my creativity blog).

I imagine God smiling at us all.  The division of time into months and years must seem rather arbitrary to one with a longer view.

I can't help but notice how many of my friends have dreams and goals that are similar to last year:  move to a different place, earn more money, lose the same amount of pounds.  Mine are similar too.  Perhaps it means that we've all reached a stable place in our adult years.  Perhaps it means that we should try a different approach to meeting our goals.  Maybe we need some fresh goals to inspire us to go further.

Part of me wonders about the wisdom of any of it.  I think of a friend decades ago who said, "I'm so tired of working on my romantic relationship.  When do we get to just be in a relationship?" 

I imagine God saying something similar:  "You were perfect when I made you--why this constant quest for improvement?"

Yet I also understand the desire to set goals.  I, too, worry that if I didn't have goals and plans that I'd spend all of my free time on the sofa, watching non-nourishing TV.

I try to set goals throughout the year, or as I think of it, making sure I'm on the trajectory I want to follow.  I know that small changes can yield huge results--so I check in on myself periodically.  I don't want to sail through life on autopilot.

There are many people who would tell us that if we approach these first weeks of the new year mindfully, we'll set the stage for the whole year.  I think of this blog post, where I talk about the idea of the first 32 days of a new year being important, an idea I got from Anne Patchett, who got it from her yoga teacher:  "She told me that her teacher, a great and wise yogi, believed that whatever a person did with thoughtful consistency for the first 32 days of the year set the course for the entire year."

Why 32 days?  I don't know--but it's similar advice to ones that scientists who study behavior give us.  It takes roughly 4-6 weeks to change a habit--to get rid of a behavior or to add a behavior.   To have it take root, it's not enough to just do something for a day or a week.

My other problem with typical goals for the new year is that they can be so self-centered.  Today I'd encourage us to take a look at the larger world.  Many of us are part of religious traditions that remind us that the work of creation is ongoing.  God has a vision for this world that hasn't been achieved yet.  Those of us who have spent the last weeks in a religious space have a sense of that vision.

How can we help make that world come into being? 

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